A cooperation agreement between China and New Zealand is raising conservationists’ hopes for a marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
Late last week, China’s president Xi Jinping and New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key announced a new comprehensive cooperative relationship between the two countries. And although China’s main interest is thought to be in ensuring access to possible future shares of Antarctica’s oil and mineral reserves, it also is increasing its science investment for the region—reportedly more than double what New Zealand spends, according to a report by Radio New Zealand.
The agreement is raising environmentalists’ hopes for turning the Ross Sea into a vast marine protected area.
“China is strong on capacity and funding, but not strong on scientific output,” said University of Canterbury’s Prof. Anne-Marie Brady, who specializes in China’s interests in the polar region. “New Zealand surpasses them on that, so China could benefit from that partnership.”
She added: “We can’t ignore that many countries look at Antarctica as a site for resources, and if we want to help influence their public’s opinion, then we need to engage with them.”
New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said in a statement that the cooperation agreement would allow the two countries to work more closely together on matters related to policy, environment, science, and logistics.
“New Zealand has played a strong role in Ross Sea, and has a strong logistic agreement with USA and Korea, so the cooperation agreement is not unexpected,” said Barry Weeber, chair of Environment and Conservation Organizations of Aotearoa, New Zealand. “We have to hope that that evolves into a stronger collaborative relationship so there is more chance to see eye-to-eye on more policy issues.”
Underscoring those hopes, China and Australia linked a memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday to bilateral cooperation in Antarctica.